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OUR CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP | PART 1

CRESCENT CITY TO SAN FRANCISCO


This scenic coastal drive is just as beautiful as we were told it would be.

When we were making plans for our trip to the US, we received a recommendation to do the Highway 1 drive down the coast of California. We weren’t sure if the price of the hire car and petrol was within our budget, but after doing some research, we quickly amended our plans and started booking the road trip. It was the best decision we made. Over 22 days, we made our way down the coast, starting in Portland, Oregon, and ending in Los Angeles, California. We had many quick stops on the drive and a few extended stays along the way too.



DAY ONE


Portland to Crescent City.

At midday we picked up our car from Avis at the Portland International Airport. We loaded our luggage into the boot (trunk), safely stored our box of doughnuts on the back seat and prepared our route on Google maps. I automatically walked to the left side of the car to jump in, completely forgetting the driver’s seat is on the opposite side here. This is not Clark’s first time driving on the right-hand side of the road, so he had the honour of driving on day one while I navigated and DJed.


Our first stop was a Walmart supercentre, only 30 minutes from the airport. We grabbed a trolley (cart) and walked every aisle, stocking up on fresh food and snacks and an esky to take along with us. We treated ourselves to the first doughnut in the carpark before jumping back on the road. The first hour of the drive was a typical highway, slowly becoming more and more green as we ventured towards the coast. We had flagged Newport, Oregon, as our location to stop for a late lunch, and we rolled in just as the sun began to dip towards the horizon. We made up some salad wraps and stood in the cold, salty sea breeze, enjoying our first moments back on the coast after a long stint in city locations.


Getting back into the warmth of the car, we headed south on Highway 101, but it wasn’t long before we pulled over at one of the many scenic lookouts along the drive to admire the beautiful sunset. For half an hour, after the sun had dipped below the horizon, we were treated to a gorgeous ombre of the pink and orange sky over blue water. Winding along the highway, the amber skies turned darker and darker and soon enough, we were driving the rest of the way at night. That didn’t stop us from enjoying every brightly lit town and a glimpse of the star-studded night sky we could get as we crossed the border into California.


WHERE WE STAYED


We checked in at 9 pm and checked out the next day at 9 am. It was a short stay, but the Westward Inn was a good overnight stop on our way down the coast. The room was large and had a table, fridge, microwave and drip coffee. A simple breakfast of muesli bars and muffins was included, nothing fancy but helpful to grab for the road. The Inn is located on the highway, but thankfully we had no issues with noise and enjoyed a comfortable and peaceful night’s rest.



DAY TWO


Crescent City to Eureka.

Excited to be back on the coast again, we grabbed some breakfast bars and muffins from our motel picked up coffee from the drive-through Java Hut and went down to the Crescent City Lighthouse. We walked along the Lighthouse Jetty in the warm morning sun and spotted the spouts from whales in the distance. We dragged ourselves away from whale watching in the sun to hit the road, driving through the Redwood National Park with the giants towering on either side of us. This drive is so scenic, and we are only just at the beginning.


The first stop we made was at the Big Tree Wayside. The main attraction here is “The Big Tree”, not that you need to come to one exact location to see big trees when they surround you on every turn of the highway. We then drove a bit further south to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. This gorgeous and peaceful track was dedicated to Lady Bird Johnson by Richard Nixon in 1969 for her dedication to preserving this beautiful environment.


After our walk, we continued down the highway to find a lookout for lunch, passing fields of elk along the way. We stopped in a sweet town called Trinidad, parked at the state beach and ate our pasta salad, prepared in the motel the night before. We jumped back on the highway all the way down to our final destination for the day – Eureka.


WHERE WE STAYED


Airbnb, Eureka

We stayed here for two nights. Continue reading below for more information.



DAY THREE


Eureka.

We had a whole day to explore the coastal town of Eureka. We woke early and made coffee to enjoy in the warm, comfortable bed of our Airbnb. Then we set out to get some pastries for breakfast at Ramone’s Bakery & Café. We typed the name into Google maps, followed the directions, and ended up in the carpark of a hardware store. Slightly confused, we walked in, grabbed a small pastry and coffee to go, and walked out wondering why a highly recommended bakery had been hidden away in a hardware store. As we sorted out our directions to Old Town, we discovered Ramone’s had multiple locations over Eureka, we had just picked the one in a hardware store by accident. Our pastries were tasty, but we couldn’t help visiting again in Old Town to get another savoury treat for breakfast.


With extra pastries in hand, we drove up to see the Carson Mansion and The Pink Lady Mansion. The famous Mansion looks exactly the same in person as it does in the pictures. The building is owned by a private club, so, unfortunately, you can’t tour inside, but the view from the outside was worth the stop. We continued exploring the Victorian architecture in Old Town, stepping in and out of all the stores along the way. I walked out of Land of Lovely with a warm, fluffy pair of socks, was tempted to buy a matching lounge set from Free People and almost added more books to our collection at Eureka Books. We checked out the Clarke Historical Museum and the pop-up shop inside then wandered some more in search of all the large, colourful murals around town.


After stopping for lunch at Los Bagels we drove over to Manila to see Friends of the Dunes and sit by the ocean. We planned to have an easy dinner back at our Airbnb, but before we retired for the night, we changed into activewear and went for a run to Sequoia Park. We had no idea how stunning this park would be, and we wish we had come earlier in the day to spend more time wandering the trails. It felt like we had stepped into a large national park right in the suburbs of Eureka. We intended to run through the park but ended up stopping every few minutes to walk down a new trail, check out Sequoia Park Zoo, look up at the Redwood Sky Walk and soak up all the beauty of the giants towering over us.


WHERE WE STAYED


Our Airbnb was everything we needed for a short stay in Eureka. It was a private room with a private bathroom, a very short drive from Old Town and included parking. They provided us with coffee, tea, a microwave, a fridge, a filtered water system and all the basic utensils we might need. The space was exactly as described, and all the information we needed was provided ahead of arrival, which made for a very smooth check-in and check-out and a comfortable stay.



DAY FOUR


Eureka to Mendocino County.

We were up bright and early, made coffee, scraped the ice off our car and set off on Highway 101. Our first stop was for breakfast, and we had quite the treat at Wildwood Waffles drive-through café. Clark had a ham and cheese waffle, and I had chicken with syrup. Not the healthiest choice but oh so tasty.


We veered off Highway 101 onto the Avenue of the Giants and were instantly in awe of the stunning drive we were taking. This remains one of our favourite moments from the trip. We arrived early, with the fog still sitting at the top of the trees, which made for a very atmospheric start to the scenic drive. As we continued, the rising sun lifted the fog and cast rays of light through the branches of the towering redwoods making every turn spectacular. Every time we hopped back in the car, saying, “enough stops, let’s just continue driving now”, we would move forward another turn and pull over yet again for more exploration and photos.


When we finally dragged ourselves out of the Avenue of the Giants, we rejoined Highway 101, made a quick stop by The Legend of Bigfoot and turned onto the start of Highway 1 at Legget. We drove through to Fort Bragg to meet Clark’s Uncle and Aunt for lunch at the Noyo River Grill and followed them down to their place on the coast, where we were staying for just over a week.


WHERE WE STAYED


Staying with family

For the next 11 days, we are staying with Clark’s Uncle and Aunt at their beautiful house on the coast in Mendocino County (the exact location not shared for obvious reasons).



DAY FIVE


At home.

Sleeping in, coffee on the couch, watching the news, eating a slow breakfast, home-cooked dinners and movies with popcorn and a glass of wine. These are all things we haven’t enjoyed since setting off travelling just over a month ago. While we are loving every second of our trip, we also both value time at home to reset and recharge. We are very thankful to be staying with family, in a truly beautiful home, and getting the chance to explore the surrounding coastline while slowing down and enjoying rest and family time.



DAY SIX


Mendocino

We had another relaxing, slow morning spent drinking coffee and watching the deer in the yard. We then decided to spend the afternoon in Mendocino. We arrived in time for lunch at Patterson’s Pub and enjoyed a hearty meal and drink in their courtyard, then took off down Main Street. We checked out the historic architecture, browsed every store, shopped for more books and treated ourselves to chocolate from the Mendocino Chocolate Shop. When we were finished strolling the streets, we drove to the headland and strolled along the cliffside. It was getting late, so we drove back home to enjoy another green flash sunset with our family (something we hadn’t heard about until staying on the coast of California).



DAY SEVEN


Anderson Valley

What better way to spend a Monday than out wine tasting. We set off to the Anderson Valley after a quick coffee and breakfast, stopping at four wineries and stopping for lunch. First was Greenwood Ridge, where the building is made from one single Redwood Tree. Then we enjoyed a tasting at a picnic table in the sun at Husch Winery and on the balcony at Navarro Winery. We went to Lauren’s restaurant and bar for lunch before heading to our final stop at Goldeneye. Here we were treated to a tasting with a delicious charcuterie board and a personalised menu, all while we sat back and enjoyed the stunning scenery of the vineyard. We felt beyond blessed and spoilt spending this time with family.



DAY EIGHT


Fort Bragg

There were a few places in Fort Bragg we had on our list that we didn’t visit on our way down the coast. Luckily, we have extra time here, so today we headed up north on Highway 1 to tick these places off. Glass Beach was our first stop. Here we walked the trails, looked through the sea glass on the beach and got excited over squirrels and ravens hanging out on the and. We drove along Glass Beach Drive to the Pudding Creek Trestle and then drove back into town to meet up with our family for lunch. After another delicious meal at Noyo River Grill, watching the seals in the harbour, we drove back into town to see the Sea Glass Museum and grab some cookies from Mendocino Cookie Co & Zappa’s Coffee. We drove south to the Point Cabrillo Light Station and then to Russian Gulch State Park to see the sinkhole, the bridge and walk some of the cliffside trails. Our final stop on the way back home was at Navarro Point Preserve and Scenic Trail for another quick walk to end our day.



DAY NINE


Point Arena

Today we drove south with our family to explore more of the coastline. We started with a huge breakfast at Rollerville Café. We then drove down Lighthouse Road, stopping at the Point Arena Stornetta Coastal Trail. It was a chilly morning, and the fog was very set in the cove, making for an atmospheric walk. Down in Sea Lion Cove, we spotted a few seals bobbing up and down in the water. Watching them kept us occupied, despite the cold weather, for quite a while. The trail started to get busy, so we got back in the car and drove to Point Arena Lighthouse. The fog was very thick here, so we didn’t climb up to the top, but instead looked through the museum and gift shop before setting off again. We drove south, exploring the small towns along the way to Gualala, where we grabbed some groceries and sandwiches for lunch. We drove back up to Point Arena Lighthouse and ate our sandwiches at one of the lookouts along the way, watching the seals bask in the sun. As we finished lunch, we noticed the fog was lifting, so we drove back to the lighthouse and did the tour up to the top. It was amazing timing because as soon as we came down from the tour, the fog started setting back in, so we decided to journey back home for sunset.



DAY TEN


Thanksgiving.

This is the first time either of us has experienced a Thanksgiving. We are so blessed to have Clark’s family in California to spend this holiday with. We had a lovely slow day, spent the morning at the beach, watched the NFL and Macy’s Day Parade on TV, seal spotted out the window, drove down to Bowling Ball Beach for sunset and had an incredible Thanksgiving feast for dinner. Clark’s Aunt cooked us a fantastic meal with all the classics we had been keen to try. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, beans, mash, and a new favourite, yams with roasted marshmallows. For dessert, we somehow fit in a slice of pumpkin pie to complete our first time celebrating Thanksgiving.



DAY ELEVEN


Mendocino (take 2).

We woke slowly, still full from our Thanksgiving feast. We had coffee and watched out the window for more seals or whales in the rough surf. We were eager to go back to Mendocino to explore more, so we set off just before lunch. The town was buzzing with people enjoying the extra-long holiday weekend. We bought some sandwiches from the Mendocino Market and sat at the picnic tables by the headland to enjoy lunch. We walked along the headland track and checked out the sinkhole we had missed the first time. We watched the waves crash along the cliffside, and some very brave paddle-boarders head out in the surf. Once we had soaked up enough warm sun by the ocean, we ventured back to Main Street, strolling through some of our favourite shops again and stopping by to see the Temple of Kwan Tai. We stopped at a few lookouts on our way back, then called family back home in Sydney to chat over video for a few hours, enjoyed another great sunset and had tasty Thanksgiving leftovers.



DAY TWELVE, THIRTEEN & FOURTEEN


At “home”.

We only have a few days left before we pack up and hit the road again. So, we are taking full advantage of the time we have left to sleep in, recharge, drink coffee overlooking the Pacific Ocean and enjoy home-cooked meals. We went on long walks to the beach, revisited the Point Arena Stornetta Coastal Trail to spot seals and watched the sunset each night with our family and a glass of wine in hand.



DAY FIFTEEN


Mendocino County to Sonoma.

We couldn’t leave without enjoying one last coffee in our favourite whale mugs, looking out the window for seals and whales. The time had come to say goodbye (for now) and hit the road again. We got back onto Highway 1 and continued our journey south, winding along the spectacular coastline. We stopped at many lookouts along the way and took a quick break at Goat Rock State Beach.


We drove into Bodega Bay at lunchtime, stopping to check out the Children’s Bell Tower and hanging out with a sea lion at The Tides Wharf. We parked down on Eastshore Road, overlooking the bay, to enjoy our pre-packed lunch, then continued on our way. We drove through Bodega, stopping by the Potter School – the building used in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds. It is a private residence, so we didn’t stay for long, and we wanted to get to our next stop as we had a lot to tick off that afternoon.


We arrived in Point Reyes around 2 pm. We drove through the very cute town of Point Reyes Station and made our first stop at the Point Reyes Shipwreck. From here, we travelled another 10 minutes to the Cyprus Tree Tunnel. The road through the tunnel was closed to cars, but we could still walk through, and somehow, thankfully, we had the place to ourselves. The next stop was Point Reyes Lighthouse. We parked the car and walked through fields of deer right to the point. The track down to the lighthouse was closed, but from the platform, we had beautiful views across the ocean and spent ages watching the water spurts from the passing whales way off in the distance. The sun was starting to set, but we had one more stop in Point Reyes to see before we left. We drove 30 minutes around the bay to the Earthquake Trail. This very short, easy trail loops around the park, with information plaques about earthquakes and the San Andreas Fault. However, the main attraction is the replica fence that shows how far the fence “jumped” during the 1906 earthquake. As the sky grew dark, we took a little detour off Highway 1, travelling inland to our next destination – Sonoma.


WHERE WE STAYED


Sonoma Creek Inn

We stayed here for two nights. Continue reading below for more information.



DAY SIXTEEN


Sonoma.

We only had one day to explore everything that Sonoma and the nearby Napa Valley had to offer, so our first stop was to fuel up with coffee and pastries at Baker and Cook on the Sonoma Highway. We visited three wineries, Chateau Montelena, Round Pond Estate and Buena Vista, not to mention the many beautiful vineyards and extravagant buildings we stopped to look at along the way.


Coming back into Sonoma, we stopped by the Overlook Trail and then parked in town at the Sonoma Plaza. We walked the streets lining the park, exploring every cute boutique store and resisting the temptation to buy all the beautiful Christmas decorations. We did purchase a corkscrew though, so we could enjoy our bottles of wine later. We dragged ourselves away from window shopping to stroll through the courtyards and buildings of the Sonoma State Historic Park.


We ate a very late lunch, at 3 pm at The Swiss Hotel. We had the entire courtyard to ourselves to enjoy bread with olive oil, bowls of pasta and a glass of wine from a winery in the local area. After a successful day of exploring, we had an easy dinner back at our hotel and packed up, ready for an early morning ahead.


WHERE WE STAYED


The Sonoma Creek Inn was an affordable and peaceful stay for our two days in Sonoma. We arrived at 6 pm and checked in over the phone on arrival. Our room was small but not cramped, very clean and cosy. The hotel is located in a quiet suburban area and has a parking lot with plenty of spots. There is not much to do in the area, so we highly recommend having a car to drive into town and to the wineries.



OUR NEXT STOP


We drove from Sonoma to our next destination, where we took a brief interval from our road trip to spend five days in San Francisco.



OUR GOOGLE MAPS


When planning our travel destinations, we pin our bucket list of sites to see and recommended places to eat and drink on Google Maps. We are then never lost for ideas when travelling, and can easily share these lists for our friends and family to use as well.




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